Work-life Programs: How the Big Seven Flex

Employees at audit firms can pretty much write their own work-life script. Here's a roundup of how the seven largest firms approach flexible work arrangements.

KPMG

The firm says that more than 70 percent of its professionals have used some type of flexible work arrangement. Employees can pull back to a 60 percent workload, or three days a week. They can even choose to work full time three months a year, usually during the busy January-April period, and 40 percent the rest of the time.

An unusual program offered by KPMG is “shared leave,” whereby employees donate their own paid time off to employees who are faced with unexpected life emergencies but don’t have sufficient remaining vacation time. “Usually more time is volunteered than what is needed,” said Manny Fernandez, national partner in charge of university relations and recruiting.

The firm also provides 12 hours of paid time off per year for employees to donate time to community involvement.

Ernst & Young

Black said the firm commissioned a study that included 3,000 people each from Gen X, Gen Y, and the Baby Boom to determine their work-life needs. It found that all three groups had similar levels of interest in work-life balance and flexibility. “Generally speaking, it’s just a difference of why,” he said.

Of the 2,000 E&Y employees who have a formal flexible work arrangement, 85 percent are women, according to the firm. Eleven people in 2007 were promoted to partner or principal while on an FWA.

But Black said he’s careful about how he communicates the firm’s flex offerings to candidates. A flexible work arrangement is something employees earn over time, and “we do not want to convey any message to a new hire that starting Day 1 you can take off any day you want. Ernst & Young is going to give and give and give, but it’s a two-way street. There will be late hours and weekends to work in the busy season. If you don’t paint that realistic picture, there’s going to be an issue when they get here.”

The firm offers a concierge service for employees who work late or are out of town. “You can arrange for someone to walk your dog or pick up your laundry,” said Black.

BDO Seidman

The firm is currently conducting its own generational study, consisting of an assortment of focus groups and an electronic survey of all employees. It’s aimed at reappraising every policy and practice at the firm. Guy said, however, that she expects a lot of feedback on the work-life component.

Guy also said that she expects some assumptions to be proven wrong. For example, “we say we have to allow casual dress because that’s what the millennials want,” she said. “But from an anecdotal perspective, that’s not really true. Do we really need to be more casual to recruit and retain people, or do they like professional attire because this is the career they’ve chosen?”

BDO doesn’t have a menu of flex programs; Guy said the firm will allow almost any arrangement that doesn’t interfere with business needs. “People always come up to me and say things like, ‘Someone wants to work four 10-hour days, can they do that?’ And I say, ‘I don’t know, you tell me. What does their client need?’ ”

Grant Thornton

Grant Thornton, too, views flexibility as completely customized. New recruits can’t apply for flexible arrangements until they’ve been on the job for two years — and that’s just fine with them, according to Nina Guthrie, director of university recruiting.

Offering a different take than her counterparts at competing firms, she said young people are not very focused on work-life flexibility. “The new-generation students are not that way,” Guthrie said. “They don’t all want to be out of there at 5:00. They want the most challenging assignments, and they’re not worried about working more than a 40-hour week.”

The firm offers flex time (alternative starting and ending hours), compressed workweek (a full-time workload in less than the standard number of days), telework (some or all duties performed from home), part-time workload, and hybrid (a combination of some of those options).

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